A research team of Cal Poly nutrition students found healthy options limited within Campus Dining.
The team released a study on Feb 4 which concluded that only 12 percent of the 314 entrees offered at all 18 Campus Dining locations are considered in good health. The study also said that only 11 out of the 31 main dish salads were considered healthy.
Nutrition sophomore and research team member Madison Fishler was not surprised by the findings.
“It makes sense that the food courts, the locations with the most options, scored the highest (healthiest),” Fishler said. “I was surprised by how low the sit-down location on campus scored.”
Campus Dining, on the other hand, was caught a little off-guard, according to Associate Vice President Commercial Services Lorlie Leetham. The Cal Poly Corporation, which controls all Campus Dining locations, has some speculations on how the team found a lot of its statistics.
Overall Leetham acknowledged that the report is comparable to most universities. She and the corporation think it’s great that students are demonstrating the Learn by Doing process and getting involved. However, Leetham was unsure how some of the data came about but said the overall results need to be higher.
“That number in itself isn’t high as we would like it to be,” Leetham said.
The study itself came about out of interest on how healthy campus food is, Fishler said.
“As a nutrition major, I am very interested in what foods our campus provides to the students. The choices that Dining makes about the kinds of food that it provides to its students impacts the students’ lives,” Fishler said. “We were all motivated by the fact that the food environment affects what we eat.”
The team was guided by kinesiology professor Marilyn Tseng and consisted of four nutrition students: Fishler, Rachel Gipson, Kelly Koyano and Kelsey DeGreef.
The study was completed in April 2015 and was peer reviewed over the course of the year. It was then sent to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Feb. 4, 2016 for publication.
The research team used the Nutrition Environment Measures Survey for Campus Dining (NEMS-CD) to analyze all dining locations. This system of measuring healthy food is used around the country.
NEMS categorizes different restaurants, such as fast food or sit-down, and then evaluates the meals, side orders, drinks, etc., of that dining facility. Each category is given a score out of 97, where four was the lowest. It also evaluates the availability, affordability and quality of healthful food choices.
Campus Dining received a mean score of 26.
Earth and soil science freshman Mikaela McGill thought the low score was due to the lack of variety of food.
“I’m lactose-intolerant, so I have already have limitations,” McGill said. “I feel like I’m eating the same stuff every day. Having 12 percent of entrees considered as healthy just makes me wonder what I have been eating.”
Biomedical engineering sophomore Tyler McDonough, who lives in Poly Canyon Village, has a hard time eating healthily on campus.
“I buy all the food I eat from the grocery stores. I cannot stand on-campus food because it isn’t healthy and nutritious,” McDonough said. “The selection is limited and very expensive. I’ve been buying food from Costco and Trader Joe’s and cooking all my meals. I make it for the complete goal of not eating on campus.”
However, Campus Dining is changing how it makes and prepares food. Leetham has seen a big change since the beginning of the decade.
“What I really took away is: Put information about the food. We’ve hired a registered dietitian to help influence menu development. We also have Wellness Wednesday and developed a nutrition calculator,” Leetham said. “What we can do quickly is make more options — and what do we want Campus Dining to be? Do we want to be the campus with Panda Express and Chick-Fil-A or the campus that integrates local food onto campus?”
Leetham said being comparable to other universities is not good enough.
There is also a long-term goal for Campus Dining to better its food. The new Master Plan will offer improvements for Campus Dining. Leetham hopes to incorporate a more “made-in-front-of-you” method of preparing food in the new dining locations. VG Cafe will be remodeled this summer to incorporate this style of cooking.
Leetham said Campus Dining has seen great success with the egg scramblers at VG Cafe, where students can choose ingredients and customize their orders. The new dining locations are being modeled so students can pick what they want and watch it as it’s cooked. However, the current facilities do not have the capability to prepare food this way.
The primary facilities are old and were built back when Cal Poly offered a cafeteria style system, Leetham said.
Civil engineering senior Ian Leonard has seen an improvement since he’s been at Cal Poly. He said he has seen the quality of the food get better and also thinks the new dining plan is better than his freshman year.
“I really like that you have Plu$ Dollars rather than meals,” Leonard said. “I think it gives you more options than what I had. It also teaches you how to manage your money.”
With the switch, Campus Dining has seen an increase in the food’s quality. However, Leetham wants to stress how difficult it is to mass feed a university.
“We make nearly 20,000 meals a day,” Leetham said. “There is so much that we have to take account for. Eating healthy is expensive, but also healthy food doesn’t have the best (taste) quality … Overall we want to please the students we serve.”